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February 27, 2015

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GOP must embrace immigration reform

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The wake-up call Republicans received last Election Day has the party and some of its more popular and strident leaders engaged in an “extreme makeover.”

It was as if that alarm clock rang with a Spanish accent and spoke so loudly that the GOP was forced to rethink its position on one of its major wedge issues — the one many local and national politicians had used effectively to unite the most extreme segments of the party base: immigration.

For some, like Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, it’s been an about-face from harsh rhetoric of the past and an embracing of a comprehensive immigration policy that may lead to a path toward citizenship for millions of undocumented workers. For others, such as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and other state executives who followed her lead in cracking down on illegal immigrants, it has been more a silencing of the lions. They’re not roaring much about the issue.

A lawyer friend of mine insists that members of the Grand Old Party have changed their name to make it easier for their candidates to identify with Hispanics when soliciting those much-coveted but elusive votes.

They have become the “Republicanos,” he says: It rhymes with “Chicano” and “Mexicano.”

Most of them have seen the light, realizing that if they are to have a fighting chance in future elections, they must attract more Latino voters, 71 percent of whom cast ballots for President Barack Obama in 2012. Although Republicanos are advocating a “kinder, gentler” party, Hispanics are looking for action instead of words and symbols.

The GOP has been promoting two of its fast-rising, high-profile Latino members of the Senate, Marco Rubio from Florida and newly elected Texan Ted Cruz, a Tea Party darling who opposes the Dream Act and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants but has advised Republicanos to soften their rhetoric on the subject.

Rubio is part of the bipartisan “gang of eight” (four Democrats and four Republicans) in the Senate who have pledged to draft comprehensive immigration legislation, a move the president has welcomed. Rubio has been a more reasonable voice on immigration and will have an important role as the issue goes forward.

The president, after upsetting Republicans by leaking portions of a proposed immigration plan that he would put forth if Congress didn’t act, has tried to make amends by calling and meeting with some GOP leaders.

Republicanos, while working through this — and I believe they will — must understand that just putting forth Hispanic faces will not solve their “Latino problem,” especially when those faces are Cuban, a group that has not suffered the same under our immigration policy as people from Mexico and Central America. And they haven’t endured the same discrimination as “Hispanic” American citizens from Puerto Rico.

The major difference in an administration plan and one supported by Republicans is the “path to citizenship.” Republicans are ready to talk about guest worker programs and legal “residency,” but not citizenship. That is because no matter how many barriers are set up to full citizenship — back of the line, years’ long waiting period, etc. — if the now-illegal immigrants ever become citizens, it will mean they gain that most precious American right: the right to vote.

The true Republicanos can’t stand that thought, and they believe that’s the president’s ultimate motive in proposing comprehensive immigration reform.

They should stop resisting it and embrace it, knowing that the demographics continue to signal a fast-growing Hispanic population.

The Republicanos surely realize that pushing the snooze button on that alarm clock will not stop time — or the inevitable change that is on the way.

Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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  1. Author is confused. GOP, Senator McCain, embraced immigration reform in 2005-2007 in concert with Senator Ted Kennedy. Then Senator Obama, put the cabash on the Senate bill thanks to big labor, AFL-CIO Trumka. It died thanks to a key vote cast by Senator Obama to kill/waterdown the Guest Worker program. Unions, read Obama, didn't want to erode the ranks with the immigration labor force. Dems and Obama have done a good job by confiscating the issue and making it theirs. Immigration reform has GOP written all over it, and the Dems including President Obama, took it away and now want the credit for it.